Tuesday, 19 March 2013

CHAMPIONS IN WAITING

The 12 point lead at the start of the weekend became a 15 point lead by Saturday evening. If there were any doubts remaining, they are well and truly put to bed as Manchester United now have a clear run at the title. I know we've got the last batch of our tricky ties coming up but 4 wins out of 9 is not a big ask from a side that has only failed to win 5 times the whole domestic season.

The Reading game was by no means one that we shall remember fondly in years to come but that we got three points is testament to the winning machine that is this current United side. We've notched up already a record points total at various points of the season which future better United sides will struggle to match. What the players can pat themselves on the back for is that they've not only won back our trophy from City but they've also embarrassed them with the points difference.


The only challenge left for this season is winning the FA Cup to cap a memorable season. Many a United sides have, since 2004 failed too win English Football's Premier Cup Competition. As such, and indeed given the failure to make it into the latter stages of the Champions League, this side can write their names in United's folklore history by winning yet another League and Cup double under Sir Alex's reign. Admittedly, I started the season without much care for the Cup as at the time we still had League business and European business still unsorted. As it stands now, we have this fully fit squad an an anti-climatic end to the season with the League likely to be wrapped up with at least a trio of games to spare. It means that if we can negotiate past Chelsea in the sixth round, we have the chance of at least one Wembley date in April and the chance of another in May.

At the moment, we're in the International break but the league schedule has us at Sunderland right after that and then at Chelsea. If we can take the Blues much more seriously than we did at OT, then we can make this season about more than that much coveted 20th league title.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

UNITED BECOME COMPLACENT!

I don't buy into the whole fatigue thing that is being thrown about regarding the draw at the weekend. The reality is that United have been poor in second halves of games stretching back to the 2-1 win over Liverpool at OT.
That we've been winning most of those games since has been papering over the cracks of what has been a long term problem for the club.

I have blogged here that because United do not press and hurry the opposition when they lose possession, it gives them an uphill battle keeping out their opponents at the other end of the pitch. Clever players like Modric, Mata, Hazard, Ramires, Ronaldo, et al will always find a way past your brick wall of defence if you give them time on the ball to pick a pass or to have a go at goal. Modern European football suggests that you need to press and hurry such players when in possession so as to deny them any sort of chance to use their talents.

After going 2-0 up against Chelsea without really breaking sweat, you could see a load of complacency creeping in among the players. Most of our players could not be bothered to run harder when they lost possession. It was more like a training routine that they were going through. It was only ever going to take one goal from Chelsea to make us too nervous to play our football. I thought we embarrassed ourselves in that second half. Only Chelsea wanted to win the game and you could see that in the way they run hard and closed us down---two things we lacked in that second period.

I know the club has been rocked by the manner in which the exited the Champions League but it doesn't mean domestic duties get any easier. Whereas the players could still make some sort of historical achievement by winning the domestic double, they have to understand that even those two titles will have to be won by blood and sweat---the same energy that was needed in Europe.

Luckily for us, we escaped with a replay at Stamford Bridge, but anything like what we put up last weekend will not be enough for the Cup. The player and manager have spoken about how they've all been longing to win the Cup. I hope it gets into their heads that City and Chelsea are looking at that Cup as the only realistic chance of silverware this season. If we really want it that bad, we have to play with the desire and passion that our next two opponents in the Cup will provide. Anything less, and what would have been a more than one trophy season will end in an anti-climatic sole league triumph.

Granted, that will do it for me, as I regard being League Champion above any other triumph, but it will help the cause of the boss and the current crop of players to win a Cup that we last won pre-Glazer.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

UNITED DO BABES PROUD ON NIGHT OF INJUSTICE!

It's such as shame that the biggest game of the season came down to a referee decision. According to the letter of the law, Nani deserved the red card that he got, but football is not only judged pragmatically. The spirit of all law is intent and absence of which should be enough to overturn a decision. It's why not all handballs are given in the penalty box as some lack that vital element of intent. That Nani had his eyes on the ball all throughout that challenge should have merited at best a yellow card.

Sadly though, the man who is now more popular that he' ever been produced red and from that point it was virtually game-over. It's hard enough playing Real Madrid with 11 men. That said, I found it perplexing that we did not hold on to our own when we lost Nani. We're not the first team to go down 10 men against strong opposition, I mean Chelsea were down to ten men last season from the 41st minute at the Camp Nou and yet they came away with a result.

Ultimately though, it has to be said though that United did themselves proud on the night. The one thing that every fan left the stadium with on the night was that we can more than match Real Madrid. The Spanish giants only took the lead in the aggregate tie when we were down to 10 men. There is not a prayer they'd have had if we had remained 11 to the end. Fergie got his tactics spot on (I'm not getting into the Wayne Rooney debate) and has put Mourinho in his place as far as that was concerned.
The players were obviously distraught after the whole incident but that's football, and sometimes, as the manger always says, it can kick you in the teeth.

The only thing we can do now is move on. Our season is by no means tainted by that defeat. It's quite an improvement from last season when we failed to beat the likes of FC Basel to get out of the group. Next year, we can give it another real go when by then we shall hopefully be English Champions again.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!

Monday, 4 March 2013

UNITED WAKE UP JUST IN TIME TO PUT NORWICH TO SLEEP!

Saturday's three o'clock fixture against Norwich at OT was always looking like the one in which we would take our eyes off the ball a bit and in the end drop at least a couple of points. I mean, with Real Madrid in town on Tuesday and a 12 point lead in March, the complacency was visible from the on-set at OT.

We made hard-work of what in the end turned out to be a comfortable outing. The tempo and pace of the game was slow and drab, so much so that going into half-time it appeared like Norwich, without registering a shot at goal, were about to accomplish phase one of their task. Thankfully, the stroke of luck that we missed earlier on in the match ensured that Kagawa had the easiest of jobs of tuck away from within the six yard area.

The second half was pretty much the same story until the last quarter of the match when RVP was withdrawn for Welbeck. Suddenly, United sprung to life and immediately got the crucial second just when Norwich were plotting to steal a point. That second goal by Kagawa was the cherry on the cake for me (sorry Wayne). The composure with which he slid it home told of the quality that lies within him. It's long since we had a midfielder that makes late runs in the box and tucks away chances. That all three of his goals came from his instinct to leave the midfield and join the strikers in the box is something that the manager should take note. Tactically of course that makes the boss' selection for Tuesday even more interesting.

The bigger picture however is that we've managed to put ourselves 15 points ahead of City again ahead of their fixture with Aston Villa. With just 10 games of the season left, that makes title number 20 all the more realistic. The title was in my opinion our prime target this year. The FA Cup and Champions League will be welcome but I won't be too disheartened if we miss out on the Cups. So, you can imagine how pleased I was that the manager started with his best attack for the Saturday game.
All too often, we've seen Fergie use the approach of best players on the bench to come on and rescue the situation. On Saturday, he used the approach that I prefer. Start the best you've got and take them off when the game is won. Credit to him for that.


Attention of course turns to what is so far our biggest game of the season. Real Madrid at Old Trafford is as big a Champions League night as we shall get at home so this where its up to the fans to turn the usually silent theatre into a cathedral of football. The last time I remember us doing that to our best was Barcelona 2008. I think the occasion merits such an atmosphere. It would certainly make the Busby Babes proud to knock out a side that posed their biggest challenge during their time.

Special mention to Ryan Giggs who just signed a one year contract extension that will take him into his 23rd season at Manchester United. Nothing more that I can add to that which will not be-little the Legend that he is.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!